Day 8 – Fr. John’s Tanzania Mission Trip

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Tuesday, Jan. 24

I actually awoke this morning about 7:00 a.m., 15 minutes before the alarm on my iPhone was set to go off.  I fixed my coffee, said some morning prayers, and by the time I finished my coffee, it was time to shower and get dressed.

At 8:45 a.m., Fr. John and Alex, one of the diocese’s drivers picked us all up in two vehicles and took us to the diocese.  The ladies went off to the sewing center, the other men went off to the vo-tech center, and I went to Fr. Matthew’s office to work on my journal.  Fr. Matthew was engaged in a meeting with a couple of gentlemen, including Justin, whom I had met before, and another gentleman whom I hadn’t met before.  I asked Fr. Matthew if I was interrupting and should come back later, but he told me to come on in and said they were talking in Swahili and that I wouldn’t understand what they were discussing.  So I greeted the two gentlemen and then, before I could do anything else, I selected one of the nicest of Alice Smith’s rosaries from the small duffel bag in which I had been carrying them (the same on in which Theresa and I had originally packed them at Alice’s home) and presented it to Fr. Matthew.  The prior day, when Fr. Matthew had seen me giving rosaries to random people whom I ran into at the diocese, he asked me to save about 20 of them for some of the people at his parish, whom we were going to visit this evening.  I had therefore gone through all the remaining rosaries last night and sorted and counted them, to be sure I had the twenty that Fr. Matthew wanted for his parish.  I had 25 rosaries left, so I was in good shape, and I assured Fr. Matthew when I gave him his rosary that I had the 20 he had asked me to reserve for the people of his parish.  I then set up my computer on the small conference table in Fr. Matthew’s office opposite the two gentlemen and began working on my journal.

Father Matthew concluded his first meeting, and then Anthony came in and said he needed to print 12 copies of a vehicle maintenance/service schedule that he had pulled off the Internet and wanted to give to the mechanics at the maintenance garage adjacent to the vo-tech center.  Anthony e-mailed the one-page schedule to me with his iPhone, and I connected a cable from Fr. Matthew’s printer (the same model of which Theresa and I have two in our home offices) to my computer and tried to connect to the Internet via Fr. Matthew’s Wi-Fi network.  Unfortunately, although I had no problem connecting to the Wi-Fi network, I couldn’t get an Internet connection, which had happened sporadically on previous days when I worked in Fr. Matthew’s office.  Anthony then had me connect to his iPhone hot-spot provided by his Tanzanian sim card on his iPhone, and that allowed me to get an Internet connection, log into my Comcast/Xfinity e-mail account and open the .pdf file of the maintenance schedule.  However, when I tried to print the schedule, I got a message that the printer was out of paper.  Not a problem, because Fr. Matthew’s secretary had paper, and shortly the printer was spitting out the 12 copies of the schedule.

Shortly after Anthony left, Fr. Matthew, who had stepped out of his office after Anthony got there, returned, and the two nuns who live at the convent, Sr. Mercy and another sister whose name I can’t recall now came in.  Fr. Matthew began a meeting with them, and Fr. John came in later and joined them.  Their meeting went on until 11:35 a.m., after which Fr. Matthew and the nuns left.  Before Fr. John left also, he joked with me about the fact that they were going to a “credit meeting” elsewhere that had been scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m.  I told Fr. John that before we left the States, Deacon Denny had warned me multiple times about “African time,” and that I had already experienced it in spades and had come to understand it.  As Fr. John then said with another laugh, “It’s about the event, not the time.”

After Fr. John left, I went back to work on my journal, trying from time to time with no success to connect to the Internet.  I had second thoughts about having declined getting a Tanzanian sim card, as I realized that not only would I have saved money on calls, e-mail and texts with one, but also I would have been able to use my own hot spot for an Internet connection, as I had with Anthony’s hot spot.  Fr. Matthew didn’t return to his office again until 4:00 p.m., so I was left alone the rest of the afternoon to work.

Shortly after 1:00 p.m., I heard Jill speaking outside as she, Jay, Eleanor and Christine passed through the courtyard of the Development Department’s offices on their way to the bishop’s house for lunch.  Not having had breakfast that morning, I decided to join them for lunch.  We all arrived in the dining room of the bishop’s house, where we first washed our hands at the designated sink installed right in the dining room.  In our experience the Tanzanian people have without exception been fastidious about washing their hands before meals.  We first experienced that at Fr. John’s home in Isole our first full day here in Tanzania, and since then we haven’t yet had a meal here before which we didn’t wash our hands.  Even when we had “lunch” on Sunday after the Mass at the pavilion, we washed our hands with soap and water that the nuns poured on our hands over a bowl. 

As seems to be their regular routine, Suzie and Jenny had prepared a full meal with many dishes in the kitchen, and they set them all out for us on the Lazy-Susan at one of the two tables in the dining room.  We’ve seen that the staples of the lunch and dinner meals in Tanzania include rice and potatoes, many vegetables, tilapia, chicken, goat meat and, less frequently pork.  And for desert, there’s always either fresh pineapple or watermelon, which are grown in abundance here.  And usually all of these are available at every meal.  Without refrigeration, there’s no such thing as leftovers here, so everything prepared for a meal has to be eaten or thrown away.  We were the only people having lunch at the time, and with just us there, we finished lunch before 2:00 p.m.

I want to say a word about the pineapple grown here.  It’s grown in such abundance that it can’t all be sold or consumed.  So much of it is wasted, which is really a shame.  On one of our first days here Fr. John took us to the produce market, where we saw huge piles of fresh pineapple on carts, and he pointed out that many of the pineapples spoil and go to waste, because the supply is so much greater than the demand.  Fr. John told us that one of his dreams is to establish a cannery that could process the pineapple and make juice out of it.  That would not only reduce the numbers of pineapples wasted but would also provide jobs for the Tanzanian people.

After lunch Jenny asked me if she could have a rosary.  I didn’t realize that she hadn’t gotten one on Sunday, and I was happy to be able to provide Suzie and her each with one.  So I went back to Fr. Matthew’s office, picked out two matching rosaries in their original plastic cases, went back to the bishop’s house and gave those to Jenny and Suzie.  They thanked me sincerely with big smiles on their faces.

I went back to Fr. Matthew’s office, tried one more time futilely to connect to the Internet and resigned myself to having to wait until I got to my hotel room this evening in the hope that the Wi-Fi there would allow me to connect to the Internet, as it previously had done sporadically.  I managed to finish my journal for Monday just about the time that Fr. Matthew returned to his office, saved it for later distribution by e-mail, and packed up my stuff, as it was then shortly after 4:00 p.m., and Fr. Matthew said it was time for us to get ready to go to his parish, St. Peter the Apostle, in his home village of Nyaragusa, about 38 kilometers (23.5 miles) from Geita.  He suggested that we all go to our hotel to shower and then we would go to Nyaragusa, a suggestion with which I was happy.  However, when we left the office and met outside with Jill, Christine and Eleanor, who had just walked over from the sewing center, the ladies said they would be fine with going on to Nyaragusa without first showering at the hotel, if we could just go to the guest house, wash our faces and freshen up a bit.  Chris and Eleanor both said they wanted to go to the bishop’s house before we left, in order to collect the bags they had left there since we had gotten to Geita, and they walked off to the bishop’s house.  Fr. Mathew seemed to like the idea of our not going to the hotel first, he called for a second car and driver from the diocese, and shortly Alex drove up with one of the diocese’s SUVs, which was air-conditioned.  At this point it was about 4:20 p.m., and Fr. Matthew, after saying that we would leave about 5:00 p.m., left in his Ford Explorer, I presumed to go check on Fr. John, Anthony, Scott and Jay, who I assumed were at the vo-tech center or the garage.  That left Jill and me with Alex in the driveway of the Development Department’s offices.  I asked Jill why she didn’t want to shower before going to Nyaragusa, and she suggested that the earlier we went to Nyaragusa, the earlier we would return.  I said that was an unrealistic suggestion, and we both laughed at the truth of what I said.

Eventually Eleanor and Chris returned from the bishop’s house with bags they had left there, and we put them in the back of Alex’s SUV.  Jill said that we could go to the guest house and have one of the sisters open it for us so that we could go in there and wash our faces and freshen up a bit and retrieve some more bags the ladies had left there the night we first went to the hotel.  It took a while for the ladies to decide where they wanted to sit in the SUV.  Before Eleanor and Chris had returned from the bishop’s house Jill had climbed with some effort into the second-row seat.  The SUV sits very high off the road, and one has to enter the second-row seat behind the driver’s seat as the back of the driver’s seat is leaned forward.  Jill isn’t very tall, and it was a long way up for her to climb into the SUV and get into the second-row seat.  However, once she was there and Eleanor and Chris had returned, Jill decided that she preferred to sit in the seats in the back of the SUV, which has two bench seats situated opposite each other and perpendicular to the first- and second-row seats.  So she decided to climb back out of the SUV and go around to the back.  Meanwhile Eleanor suggested that Chris, who’s tall and has long legs, should sit in the front-row passenger seat, where I have consistently been sitting in whatever vehicle we’ve been riding in, and I offered to let Chris sit there.  Chris demurred over Eleanor’s repeated suggestion, said she was fine in the middle row and climbed in there.  Eventually all three ladies and I were in the vehicle, and Alex drove us the short distance to the guest house, where we disembarked.

Jill got one of the sisters to let us in the guest house, and we went in to freshen up and get some bottles of water from the storeroom there.  When I came out of my bedroom, I saw Eleanor sitting in the lobby, and she commented to me that she didn’t have a mirror in her room and didn’t know what she looked like.  I told her she looked exactly as she always had, but I offered to let her into my room to use the mirror in my bathroom, and I led her to my room and showed her the bathroom.  I then went outside, where Jill was sitting on the stone fence along the front yard of the guest house.  It was then about 5:10 p.m.  Jill and I chatted as we waited for Chris and Eleanor to finish freshening up, and I noticed that although Alex’s SUV was parked in front of the guest house, Alex was nowhere to be seen.  And we hadn’t seen Fr. Matthew since he had left the Development Department nearly an hour earlier.  Then Alex drove up in a second SUV and stopped briefly next to the SUV he had been driving earlier.  I knew he couldn’t drive two vehicles to Nyaragusa, and Fr. Matthew had earlier said we were taking the first SUV because it was air-conditioned, so I wondered what Alex was planning to do with the SUV in which he had just driven up.  Then he went on in that SUV, turning the corner onto the road that dead-ends at the bishop’s house.  Eleanor and Chris eventually came out of the house, and Jill, Chris, Eleanor and I continued to wait there with the driverless SUV.

It was now approaching 6:00 p.m., and we still hadn’t see Fr. Matthew again or Anthony, Jay, Scott or Fr. John.  I recalled that the original plan for today had been for us to leave the diocese at 4:00 p.m., go to the hotel and shower, and leave the hotel for Nyaragusa at 5:00 p.m.  Then we had changed that plan at the ladies’ suggestion to save time.  Now we were approaching 6:00 p.m. and didn’t seem to be in any danger of leaving anytime soon.  Ah, “Africa time” – it’s about the event, not the time”! Then an old pick-up truck driven by Anthony, with Sixtus, a diocesan employee, riding in the cab with him and Jay and Scott riding in the bed, came by.  They stopped, told me that were going to the bishop’s house, and I decided to go with them.  I told the ladies, jumped into the bed of the pick-up with Jay and Scott, and we went on to the bishop’s house.

As we pulled up to the bishop’s house and parked, Fr. Matthew was standing in the driveway outside his Explorer talking on one of his cell phones.  Fr. John suddenly came out of the house through the front door, stretching his arms as some people do when they wake up.  I asked him if he had been napping, and he denied that and said he had been working, gesturing with his two hands as if he were typing on a keyboard.  I believe Fr. John to be fairly guileless, so I believed him.  We stood around in front of the bishop’s house waiting for someone to make a move to load up and depart for Nyaragusa, but Fr. Mathew was still talking on his cell phone and didn’t seem to be in a hurry.  Maria Mapunda, the engineer I had met and spent some time with yesterday, was there also, so I said hello to her.  I assumed that she was there checking on the construction of the new building next to the bishop’s house.  Then Alex drove up in the SUV that he had previously left in front of the guest house with Jill, Chris and Eleanor inside.  Fr. Matthew suddenly seemed to be in a hurry to leave.  Suzie and Jenny came out of the bishop’s house, and they, Fr. John and Maria piled into Alex’s SUV with Jill, Eleanor and Chris.  I got into the front passenger seat of Fr. Matthew’s Explorer, and Anthony, Scott and Jay got into the second seat.  I didn’t check the time when we finally left for the hour-long drive to Nyaragusa, but it had to be close to 6:30 p.m.

As we headed out of Geita, Fr. Mathew pulled off the main road into a gas station and asked the female attend to put petrol (gasoline) in his Explorer.  Petrol here in Geita is about $4 a gallon, priced at a little more than 2,000 shillings per liter.  I haven’t found that to be too much of a difference from the prices we’re currently paying in Colorado, given the fact that we’re in Africa.

The trip to Nyaragusa saw us drive eight kilometers (about five miles) from Geita over a paved highway, and then we turned onto a dirt road, over which we would drive another 30 kilometers (18 and a half miles) to Nyaragusa through the same sorts of villages we had passed through when we went to Fr. John’s home in Isole, Christ the King in Nyantakubwa and St. John the Apostle in Nyanpamande.  However, the surface of the dirt road we traveled to Nyaragusa was in better shape than the dirt roads we had previously traveled.  The countryside through which we drove on the paved road from Geita to the dirt road to Nyaragusa was open, very green and beautiful, with large hills and promontories off in the distance.  Once we turned onto the dirt road the countryside became more closed in, although still very green.

Fr. Matthew drove very fast, and we soon left Alex and his SUV and passengers quite a ways behind us.  I estimate by lay perception that after we left Geita proper and got onto the open we were frequently driving in excess of 65 to 70 mph (97 to 113 kph) on the paved road and 55 to 60 mph (89 to 97 kph) on the dirt road.  (There are no posted speed limits on any of the roads we’ve been on so far.)  When we got to the dirt road, Fr. Matthew stopped in the middle of the road where it intersected with the paved road, and we waited for several minutes for Alex to catch up to us.  Once we took off again on the dirt road, we quickly left Alex behind again, however.  The road was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass in opposite directions, and a few times when Fr. Matthew passed slower moving vehicles, including some good-sized trucks, we brushed the flora lining the road.  Over the 18 kilometers we drove on that road, we went over only two speed bumps in one village.  Those speed bumps and a small number of pretty bad ruts on the road were the only things that caused Fr. Matthew willingly to slow down.  A couple times when he was forced to slow down before he could pass a truck and an oblivious motorcyclist who didn’t move over from the middle of the road, Fr. Matthew laid on his horn in an insistent manner that would have done any New York City taxi driver proud, until he could pass.

As we came into Fr. Matthew’s parish, he pointed out to us the white steeple of the church of St. Peter the Apostle that could be seen in the distance at the top of a hill.  As we came into the village of Nyaragusa, he pointed out to us a small gold mine on the side of the road.

Finally we arrived at St. Peter the Apostle.  We turned off the dirt road onto a hillside that had what I suppose could be called either a driveway or a village street, with no discernible border and many deep ruts in it.  It rose up the hill, turned left in front of the church and ended at the rectory.  The church is beautiful, impressive and relatively large, especially considering its location.  On the way there, Fr. Matthew had told us that Sunday Masses at the church might have 600 congregants.  He also told us that the 20 outstations in his parish might have as many as 200 or 300 parishioners when the Masses are celebrated at those, where the parishioners might get to participate in the Mass only once a month.

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Fr. Matthew stopped the Explorer but left the engine running in front of the gate in the wall surrounding the rectory, and we all got out to look at the church.  The sun was setting, and we wanted to see the church before it got dark.  We took several pictures that we’ll be able to share later.  We went inside, kneeled in brief prayers on a couple kneelers at the back row of pews, and bowed or genuflected in reverence before the tabernacle, which had a lit tabernacle candle next to it.  Fr. Matthew greeted a woman who was on her hands and knees washing the floor of the center aisle, and she then in deference to us took a seat in one of the pews to allow us to walk up the center aisle unimpeded.  However, we chose to walk up a side aisle to the sanctuary, which is impressive and beautiful, being all marble.

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After we had viewed the inside of the church, we went outside.  Alex’s SUV still hadn’t arrived, and we saw that we had caused a small group of village children to gather in curiosity at the mzungus (white people) who had come to their village.  Scott and Jay took turns posing with them for pictures and then showing them the pictures, and they were tickled to death at seeing their pictures.

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Alex and his passengers then arrived, and Fr. Matthew had an employee of the parish open the gate so we could enter into the yard of the rectory.  While the folks who came in Alex’s SUV visited the church, Fr. Matthew showed the rest of us the rectory, which is nicely appointed and has six bedrooms, including one for the priest and one reserved for the bishop when he visits the parish.

Going back outside, Anthony face-timed Theresa with is iPhone and gave me his phone.  Theresa was reluctant to show herself in her iPhone’s camera, but we all insisted, and she relented, and I showed her to everyone in the group.  Maria, Jenny and Suzie were particularly interested in seeing what Theresa looked like, and they got a kick out of seeing her face and hearing me say to her “I love you” when we ended the conversation.

Once everyone was inside the house, we all took seats in the large living room, and Jenny and Suzie assisted a couple women of the parish in serving us refreshments. I opted for a Coke and water, Jay, Jill and Chris opted for Sprites and water, and Eleanor just took water.  Our intrepid male companions all opted for beers, of course.  As we sat and visited and drank our drinks, some other folks began carrying and arranging chairs outside the house, where the evening air was cool and breezy, and much cooler than the air in the house.  Putting on mosquito repellant we mzungus went outside as darkness set in.  I decided to join the other guys in having a beer, and they expressed their approval with that when I came outside the house and joined them.

The rest of the evening ended up being one of the most fun times I’ve had on this trip.  Fr. Deusdedit, the pastor of St. Peter the Apostle, whom we had met last night and spent much of the evening with at Fr. Matthew’s family’s home in Geita, arrived next, and then slowly local residents and parishioners began to show up.  As they did, we all introduced ourselves to them.  A few of them spoke English, and with those who didn’t we all used our best Swahili greetings and introductions.  After many people had joined us sitting outside the house, dinner was served.  In the usual fashion, everyone washed his or her hands in the dining room, and then we all had a prayer before the meal.  The food was set on the round dining room table, and we all served ourselves buffet-style and went outside to eat and have fellowship.  As we finished our food, the ladies of the rectory, with the assistance of Suzie and Jenny, cleared our dishes.  Meanwhile, Anthony and Scott, who had noticed a problem with the refrigerator, went to work repairing it in their inimitable fashion, lying on the floor of the dining room behind the refrigerator while referring to some schematic that Anthony had pulled up on the Internet with his iPhone.  (I really do need to consider getting one of those Tanzanian sim cards!).

Soon, dinner was over, and I asked Fr. John to tell me how to say in Swahili that the food was very good.  I typed it into my notes on my iPhone as he told me how to say and spell it (“Chakula kilikuwa kitamu sana”).  I then practiced saying it a few times and went over to the ladies who had prepared the meal and spoke it to them, received their thanks (“Asante sana”) and told them they were welcome (“Karibu sana,” although I should have said, “Karibuni sana,” which is how to say you’re welcome to more than one person).

Then I asked Fr. Matthew jokingly when the dancing would start, not really expecting any dancing to take place.  Maria laughed at me and commented about my wanting to dance.  As we continued to visit, Fr. Matthew came outside with a large blue-tooth capable speaker, and Fr. John transmitted to it with his iPhone some African songs.  It wasn’t long before many of us, including Fr. Matthew, Fr. John, Suzie, Jenny, Maria, Scott, Anthony, Jill and several of the men and ladies of the parish, as well as yours truly, were dancing as if it we were at an African sock-hop.  Anthony told me that he videoed me dancing and sent the video to Theresa, but I can tell you she wasn’t going to be surprised.

After much dancing and laughing, one of the lay catechists of the parish, whose name I can spell only phonetically as something like Rahstoff, said there was something that needed to be done.  This was apparently a cue for Fr. Matthew, who then took the floor and said that his people wanted to give the members of our group gifts for us to take back to America, with which to remember the Tanzanian people.  Fr. Matthew called us one by one and gave us packages that we discovered as we opened them contained beautiful shirts for the men and dresses for the women.  The men’ shirts were different in colors.  One was purple (it was the same purple shirt Fr. Matthew had shown me at the dressmaker’s shop in Geita), one was black with brown designs, two were red, and mine was the very shirt in blue cloth with the butterflies that I had admired and tried on at the dressmaker’s shop.  The women’s dresses were identical, being made of the same cloth in red with gold designs.  We were all asked to try on our gifts.  Scott immediately complied, saying something like, “Okay you asked for it,” and then pulling off his tee-shirt and baring his torso before putting on his shirt, which brought roars of laughter from everyone.  The rest of us men also complied, putting on our shirts, although without the fanfare that had accompanied Scott’s compliance.  The ladies at first demurred, but collapsing under the pressure of the entire crowd eventually went inside the house, changed into their dresses, and then came out one at a time modeling them, to the delight and applause of everyone.

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After we had received and tried on our gifts, Rahstoff announced that it was time for introductions.  Fr. Matthew asked our group to go first, introducing ourselves and saying something about our impressions of our visit, and he asked Maria to serve as our translator for the locals who didn’t speak English.  We all made our introductions, thanking the people for their welcome, their warmth and hospitality to us and commenting on our various impressions.  From my own perception, the comments of the rest of our group were thoughtful, warm, sincere and meaningful, and I believe all our introductions were well taken by our hosts.  Then the locals all made their introductions, which were very sweet and kind and welcoming.  At that point Fr. John, at my prior request, spoke to the group in Swahili about our dear friend Alice Smith, her life and the fact that she had donated some 200 rosaries for us to give to the Tanzanian people.  Then I gave to each of the local residents there one of Alice’s rosaries.  At that point it was time to start wrapping up the party and for us to head back to Geita.  However, Fr. John played some more music, and we did some more dancing first.  Eventually the music and dancing stopped, and we began saying our goodbyes.  Each one of us said thank you and goodbye to each one of the local residents, and after helping a bit to clear things from the meal and to stack chairs, we finally loaded up our two SUVs and started back to Geita.

The fact that it was pitch black on the road except for the beam of Fr. Matthew’s headlights didn’t give Fr. Matthew any reason to drive back over the dirt road any slower than he had on the way out in daylight.  Waves of drowsiness swept over me, and despite the bouncing around caused by the road, I began to drift off to sleep but occasionally came back to consciousness and danced in my seat to the music of Fr. Matthew’s radio.  When we finally got to the paved road, Fr. Matthew stopped the Explorer to wait for Alex and his passengers to catch up to us, and we all got out to look at the stars, which were amazingly bright in the sky in the dark African night.  Fr. Matthew then turned up the music on his radio, and we all, Fr. Matthew, Scott, Anthony, Jay and I began dancing in the road behind the Explorer.  Although it took many minutes for Alex to catch up to us, we continued to dance in the road until he did.  Then we made the relatively short remaining drive to the hotel, where we said goodnight to Fr. Mathew, Fr. John, Alex, Maria, Jenny and Suzie, and went to our respective rooms.  Jay and Jill, however, weren’t able to get into their room with their passkey, and neither was Eleanor.  Jay headed for the office, and Fr. John went there also with Eleanor.  My passkey worked fine, and when I got into my room, I set up my computer, was thankfully able to connect to the Internet, and sent out my journal for yesterday.  Then I went to shower and was delightfully surprised to find that I had hot water in the hot-water lines of both my sink and my shower.  God is good all the time, and all the time God is good, and I gave Him a prayer of thanks for the small favor of allowing me to have a warm shower instead of another cold one.  Finishing my shower, I texted Theresa to tell her good night and that I love her.  It was 2:30 a.m.  I set my alarm for 7:15 a.m., crawled into my bed and immediately fell asle

Salty

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